Burundi push presidential elections till July 15

Burundian president postpones presidential elections until July 15 amid unrest

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza has issued a decree to delay the presidential election to July 15 from June 26, after six weeks of protests triggered by his bid for a third term.

Opponents say the re-election bid violates the constitution and a peace deal that ended a civil war in 2005 that pitted rebel groups of the Hutu majority, including one led by Nkurunziza, against the army, then led by minority Tutsis.

The president points to a ruling by the constitutional court that found his first term did not count because he was picked by lawmakers and not elected by a popular vote.

"He has published the decree," spokesman Gervais Abayeho said, adding that it was issued on Tuesday night based on revisions proposed by the electoral commission.

A parliamentary vote, already delayed once, was now set for June 29, about a month later than initially planned, he said.

Abayeho said this week that any debate about his re-election bid was now "closed."

A month and a half of protests have plunged the nation into its deepest crisis for a decade, alarming a region with a history of ethnic conflict, particularly next door Rwanda, which has the same ethnic mix and suffered from the 1994 genocide.

The revised dates proposed by the electoral commission CENI were a response to a call by east African leaders for a delay of about one and half months, government officials have said.

Opponents have criticised the election body, saying it has not acted neutrally and no longer has legitimacy since two of its five members have quit. Officials dismiss charges of bias.

Frederic Bamvunginyumvira, leader of the opposition party Frodebu, said CENI had not respected to demands of east African leaders who had called for a longer delay of at least 45 days.

Protests have subsided in recent days, after almost daily clashes between demonstrators hurling stones and police who have fired teargas and shot at protesters. Civil society activists say more than 30 people have been killed.

Prominent civil society activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa said protesters would resume again, saying the lull was just a break.

He said Nkurunziza could only win another term by rigging the poll and, if he did, "we will protest the five years and two months until Pierre Nkurunziza leaves", a reference to the next five-year presidential term that begins in August.

Officials say they will ensure a fair vote.

For now, the row has remained a power struggle between supporters and opponents of Nkurunziza, with Hutus and Tutsis in both groups. But diplomats worry that, the longer violence continues, the more chance old ethnic wounds will reopen.

The United States has urged regional leaders to tell Nkurunziza not to run. European Union donors have halted aid for the polls, saying conditions for a vote are not right.

The government of Burundi, an aid-reliant nation that is one of the world's poorest, says it has allocated its own funds and raised donations from citizens to ensure voting goes ahead.

A senate vote will now be held on July 24, a week later than planned, Abayeho said.